Beginning this week, we are unveiling a new format for the Genomics Law Report’s regular Twitter Roundup. In addition to cataloging Dan’s @genomicslawyer tweets, we will also be offering short summaries of several key developments pulled from those tweets which, for one reason or another, did not find their way into a full-length post. Think of this as a combination between the always informative Friday Links posts at Genomes Unzipped and The Cross-Border Biotech Blog’s semi-regular feature “This Week in the Twitterverse,” which was the original inspiration for the GLR’s Twitter Roundup.
Last January we kicked off the new year by posing “Five Questions for Personal Genomics in 2010.” Here were the five questions we asked:
1. Will the $1,000 genome live up to the hype?
2. Will personal genomics stay DTC?
3. How will the ongoing gene patent debate affect the progress of personalized medicine?
4. When and where will the next regulatory shoe fall?
5. Who will control the data?
A year later the question that comes first to mind is, has anything really changed?
The short answer is no, not fundamentally, although that is not meant to imply that nothing of note happened in 2010. Far from it, as significant legal, regulatory, policy and technological developments continued to reshape the personal genomics landscape.
With that in mind, we welcome 2011 with a look back at the year that was, and a look ahead at what to expect from 2011 and beyond.
As we wrote yesterday, last week the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued definitive rules and regulations (pdf) with respect to Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA). In our previous post we offered a brief overview of the new regulations, as well as some preliminary suggestions for employers just now coming to grips with GINA.
We also promised to take a closer look in today’s post at several substantive features of the EEOC’s new regulations.
Defining the Terms. The EEOC, the government agency generally responsible for enforcing federal employment nondiscrimination laws, was the logical choice to promulgate regulations under GINA’s Title II, which governs the use of genetic information by employers and similar entities. But not all of GINA’s statutory provisions were within the EEOC’s area of expertise.
As regular readers know, in addition to my work as an attorney, in my personal time I am also actively involved with several personal genomics projects. Two of those, Genomes Unzipped and the Personal Genome Project, had major announcements this week.
On Monday, the twelve founders and co-collaborators at Genomes Unzipped (including me) published our genetic data for the world to see. We released both raw data and a custom genome browser. This morning we began the process of talking about the experience of joining the public genomics movement, something that has already affected each of us in different ways. My first post discusses why my decision to join Genomes Unzipped was not a purely personal decision.
On Tuesday, the Personal Genome Project unveiled its latest phase, announcing the enrollment of its next 1,000 participants (the “PGP-1K”), integration with Google Health for phenotype collection and sharing, the upcoming release of a number of new, public whole-genome sequences and several other exciting developments.
Over the weekend, Steven L. Salzberg and Mihaela Pertea published a short but significant article in the journal Genome Biology. In “Do-it-yourself genetic testing,” Salzberg and Pertea describe the creation of “a computational screen that tests an individual’s genome for mutations in the BRCA genes, despite the fact that both are currently protected by patents.”
The software-based test can be downloaded from the website of the University of Maryland’s Center for Bioinformatics & Computational Biology, where Salzberg is the director and Pertea is on the faculty. The test purports to test genomic sequence data against a set of known mutations in the BRCA genes. In addition to representing a conceptual alternative for those seeking to evaluate their risk of hereditary breast cancer, the so-called “Salzberg Screen” is also a direct challenge to Myriad Genetics, the FDA and the existing legal, regulatory and policy regimes that continue to struggle to keep pace with the science and technology of genomics and personalized medicine.
Below, we examine how the Salzberg Screen fits—or does not—within the current legal and regulatory landscape, as well as what it signals for the future of do-it-yourself genomics, whole-genome sequencing and the law.
After several months of public drama, the University of California, Berkeley’s ambitious program to introduce its incoming freshmen to personalized medicine reached its denouement in late August.
As part of its program, Berkeley offered students the option to participate in genetic testing for three common genetic variants relevant to the body’s ability to metabolize milk products, alcohol and folic acid. The University’s original plan was to allow students to elect to receive the results of their tests as part of the program. Two weeks ago, however, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) ruled that if Berkeley wanted to return personalized genetic data to some of its freshmen, the testing must be conducted at the direction of a physician and performed by a licensed clinical laboratory. The significant logistical burden and cost of complying with the CDPH’s ruling forced Berkeley to modify its program. While some aspects of the program will go forward, no student will be able to access any personalized genetic information.
I’m pleased to announce the beta launch of a new community resource for personal genomics, Genomes Unzipped.
I’ve been working with a group of colleagues on this project for quite a while now. Some of the group members will be familiar to regular readers of the Genomics Law Report, including Daniel MacArthur from Genetic Future, Luke Jostins from Genetic Inference and Caroline Wright from the PHG Foundation. Others are new to the online personal genomics community, but have scientific training in genomic analysis, statistical genetics and other fields that allow them to offer valuable insight into personal genomics issues. We’ll be adding more names to that list over the next few weeks.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Amy Harmon, of The New York Times, reports that a long-running dispute between Arizona State University (ASU) and the Havasupai Indians over the allegedly improper research use of DNA from members of the tribe has been settled.
The research began two decades ago, ostensibly to search for a genetic variant that might be contributing to the increasing rate of diabetes in the tribe. The diabetes research proved unfruitful, but the blood donated by the Havasupai tribe members, and the DNA extracted from it, led to a number of follow-on research projects, grants and publications. It was that research – including searching tribe members’ DNA for variants linked to schizophrenia, and inferring the likely ancestral origins of the tribe’s founders – that led to lawsuits, millions in legal fees and, ultimately, the settlement.
Implications of the Havasupai Settlement. Harmon’s article provides a concise background to the dispute, and briefly describes the $700,000 settlement between ASU and the tribe to “remedy the wrong that was done.” Harmon and unnamed “legal experts” suggest that the settlement is significant because “it implied that the rights of research subjects can be violated when they are not fully informed about how their DNA might be used.”
In some respects, this is a trivial conclusion. One of the most important and well-known elements of the Common Rule – the regulatory regime that governs federally-funded human subjects research – is that researchers must seek, and participants provide, informed consent. Participants that are uninformed cannot provide valid consent and, thus, their rights as subjects are violated. In that respect, at least, the Havasupai case tells us nothing new. (I have not seen the settlement, but I doubt that it will (a) be made public or (b) contain an express admission of guilt from ASU, both factors that will limit its relevance to future similar scenarios.)
The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) National Broadband Plan was released to Congress today. (Depending on your perspective, that’s either one day ahead or 30 days behind schedule.) What, you might ask, does a broadband report prepared by an agency better known for handing out fines in the aftermath of wardrobe malfunctions have to say that could possibly interest the Genomics Law Report?
For most of the broadband plan’s 376 pages (pdf) the answer is “nothing at all.” However, Chapter 10 focuses on Health Care (pdf), with several discussions of potential relevance to the future of genomics and personalized medicine, at least in the United States. The bulk of the chapter is devoted to issues of indisputable importance – e-care, health IT, mobile and rural healthcare delivery, for instance – that will be capably covered elsewhere. (mobihealthnews, for instance, is already providing coverage of aspects of the plan that will impact mobile health care: here and here.) However, Section 10.4 (“Unlocking the Value of Data”) offers up two important themes that are relevant to how at least one government agency views the future of genomics and personalized medicine.
From October 5 to December 8, 2009, the Genomics Law Report featured a series of thirty-six guest commentaries by industry, academic and thought leaders in the fields of genomics and personalized medicine. Entitled What ELSI is New?, the series, which we have organized into an e-book (pdf), asked each contributor to briefly respond to the following question: “What do you believe is the most important ethical, legal or social issue (ELSI) that must be addressed by the fields of genomics and/or personalized medicine?”
For better or worse, that’s where the instructions ended. The invited contributors identified the ELSI of their choice and discussed (or not) their rationale for so selecting as they saw fit. In addition to refraining from substantive editing, we intentionally avoided coordinating commentaries. Although we encouraged independent submissions from a variety of contributors and deprived them of any advance knowledge of what others in the series would say, one of our hopes was that consensus would begin to form around certain key ethical, legal and social issues.
To some degree this occurred. In collecting the series for the convenience of readers who would like to have all of the contributions in one place (pdf), we have ultimately settled on six broad topic headings for the commentaries
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